TV Review: “The Americans” – War on the Battlefield, War at Home

Written by Spencer Sterritt May 22, 2014

The Americans

The Cold War may be long over, but does not mean that there are more stories to tell. “The Americans,” which just finished it’s second season on FX, continues to plumb the hostile international relations of the 1980’s to tell a riveting spy story, about two deep cover Soviet agents, while also delving into what makes a marriage and a family work.

Season one of “The Americans” was all about Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) Jenner, two Soviet spies with their own family, and their marriage. Season two finds the two spies in a more comfortable place together, but their family unit is breaking apart due to the strain of going out late at night to fight for the motherland. Nevermind the FBI agent across the street, whose own marriage is crumbling due to his job as a counter-intelligence officer.

 “I don’t kill as easily as you.”

Tales of heroes and anti-heroes in a time of war is nothing new, but “The Americans” manages to separate itself from the pack by never letting Phillip or Elizabeth off the hook for their actions. Several innocents die over the course of the second season, from an unfortunate witness in the season premiere to some soldiers at a military camp in Nicaragua that Phillip and Elizabeth are infiltrating, and the show never brushes them off as necessary collateral damage like most spy shows, such as Burn Notice or Homeland, do. There are no good or bad guys, instead there are good people doing bad things for their country. One villain does emerge later in the season, a US soldier named Larrick who the Jenner’s try to turn, but everything he has done is out of revenge for the fallen soldiers in Nicaragua, who died at Phillip’s hand.

The americans, phillip

For those looking for more than just spy missions and fun disguises, “The Americans” has put the Jenner family into the spotlight all season. Their son Henry, and especially their daughter Paige, are more involved than ever as the two reach that age where parents are no longer always right. As spies Elizabeth and Phillip are smooth operators, but when they return home and have to fit into their roles as parents they could not be more uncomfortable. The emotional core at the center of “The Americans” is rather hidden, since this is a show about spies, but once you get used to the rhythms of the show you realize how complex every character is. The writing is absolutely fantastic, with Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell doing very subtle character work to keep us guessing at what they are thinking.

 “You respect Jesus but not us?”

Though the fragmenting Jenner family has commanded plenty of screen time this season, “The Americans” never forgets that it is a spy story through and through. Created by Joe Weisberg, a former CIA agent, the show is packed to the brim with technical terms and tense scenes of infiltration, extermination, and interrogation. Every episode is loosely based around one aspect of a larger mission, which this season is about stealing and disarming American stealth technology. Aside from an execution or two, “The Americans” is light on gun play, focusing on deception and disguises instead.

The Americans, sex hair

The lack of action may not be for everyone’s taste, but nearly every disguise or gambit requires sex to be pulled off, making for a very sexy show. FX is more strict on nudity than HBO or Showtime, which the writers and directors use to their advantage to stage several sensuous and arousing scenes to capture everyone’s attention. They even make nasty 80’s hair look sexy.

“You look like him, but you aren’t being him.”

“The Americans” is a complicated show to get into, since the emotional core of the show is hidden behind disguises and lies, and there are many spy plots moving at all times, but after a few episodes the show reveals itself to be one of the most tense and emotional shows on television. Between the dying, lying, and fighting, there’s a little bit for everyone to enjoy as “The Americans” finishes it’s second season.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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About Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt

Spencer Sterritt: former Editor-In-Chief for We Eat Films, future President of the Men With Beards Club, and hopefully candidate for ruler of the world.

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